By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A top ranking U.S. Department of Education official and members of a statewide campaign to increase early learning opportunities for children swapped stories and strategies on Thursday at a Philadelphia City Hall summit.

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The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning, Libby Doggett, says there is empirical evidence that the early learning years – for children 3 and 4 (years old) – are so very important.

“You have education research,” she says, “economic research, developmental psychology research, neuro-science research, medical research.”

Stakeholders at the summit, like Eva Gladstein of the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, say they’re pushing local access to higher quality Pre-K programs.

“How to make sure we can adequately fund universal access for pre-kindergarten,” Gladstein says, “without damaging all of the resources for (grades) K through 12.”

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell says one option is a ballot question changing the City Charter to form a commission to look into how to finance and deliver “universal Pre-K.”

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“Everybody is committed to making zero-three a major issue,” she says.

Pennsylvania applied for but missed out on a $20-million federal grant to expand access to Pre-K.

Supporters are calling on Governor-elect Tom Wolf and the legislature to make it a top priority.

In New York, the state legislature decided to use state funds to expand funding for Pre-K, instead of a local city tax increase for full-day pre-kindergarten programs.

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